There's a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep 'em all away from you. That's never possible.
There's only so much I can take of misty-eyed childhood remembrances, which meant that the first half of this all-American classic only engages up to a point. I can appreciate the idea of the child's eye view of an adult world, but director Robert Mulligan doesn't bring the kind of vision that, say, Charles Laughton brought to Night of the Hunter. As good as the child actors are, the sense of sentiment to be found in these scenes seems unnecessary (it surfaces again later with Robert Duvall's beatific Boo Radley; I wouldn't take issue with Duvall's performance so much as the unsubtle way he's directed).
That said, the trial of the second half remains powerful and provocative. Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch is one of cinema's most righteous heroes, deserving of respect because he struggles to live the morality he espouses (this is impressed upon us particularly in his scenes relating to his children, where he must resist the urge to use violence having told them not to, or his keeping his skill with guns a secret so as not to glorify weapons). Brock Peters (Joseph Sisko) is outstanding as the wrongfully accused Tom Robinson, particularly when called upon to give evidence. And as his white trash accusers, Collin Wilcox Paxton (as Mayella) and James Anderson (as her father; Anderson was reportedly a dyed-in-the-wool redneck himself) are equally compelling.
I didn't know that the kid living next door was based on Truman Capote, whom Harper Lee knew. Apparently James Stewart turned down the role of Finch, telling producers the script was too liberal and that he feared the controversy it would provoke. Aw, shucks.